The Importance of Knowing Who You Are (a.k.a. Author Branding)
by Michelle Jo Quinn
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. Everything you will read here is through my own experiences, and what I’ve heard and read from other authors and online.
About two and a half years ago, I told my sister that I need a name. A pen name. She agreed. It took me months to figure out a good one. Now, my legal name is not horrible. It’s beautiful and I’m proud of it. But it is also a popular name. In the world of writing, you want to be unique. You want to be able to do a Google search and find out that you are in fact known as an author.
Fast forward to this spring when I not only have one pen name, but two. Yup, my life is never boring. Why two? Isn’t that a little insane? Why yes, sometimes. However, I don’t think I would be a writer if I’m not a tad bit crazy.
So here I am, writing as Michelle Jo Quinn (MJQ) and the secret (not-so-secret) QUINN (I like ALL CAPS, you’ll know why in a bit). What’s the deal with two pseudonyms? I’m glad you asked.
Under MJQ, I write sweet, contemporary, clean-ish, sometimes funny, sometimes sad romance. QUINN does the dirty, filthy fiction with sassy heroines and hump-worthy heroes. QUINN wasn’t an accident. Like MJQ, I had to think about it and brainstormed with my amazing friend, Amie Stuart. Any other name I suggested, we found it lacking. I needed something with a punch. Something intriguing. QUINN was eventually born.
(NOTE: I often refer to these pen names in third person. Like I said, crazy.)
But this is not about me. This is about YOU, as an author. I’m here to ask you who are you and what do you write? Furthermore, I want to know what your author brand is like. If someone hears or sees your name, would they know that you are the Queen of Paranormal Romance? Or the Prince of Historical LGBT New Adult Mystery?
When I had the chance to visit Wattpad HQ in Toronto, I met the lovely Jing-Jing, and she said, “You’re Michelle, right? You wrote the wedding series.” My jaw dropped, my eyes popped. I did write that series! That’s what I’m currently known for. But I would like to be known for more than that.
We all love to write. That’s what got us here in the first place. These days, as an author, you need to learn to be a marketing and promoting machine too. Author Branding should be your first step into marketing. If you think you don’t need that because you’ll get picked up by a Big 5 publisher, well, sorry, hun, you are lying to yourself. And I have a big foam baseball bat to hit you with the truth. Most traditional pubs, self-pubs and hybrid authors know that author branding is a must.
What the heck is Author Branding?
It’s your mark as a writer. It’s your “image”, your promise to readers.
Think of Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele. We all know who they are and what they write. Same thing with John Green and Colleen Hoover. Close your eyes for a second and imagine one of these authors’ books. Can you see their names on the cover without looking at a physical book? That is effective author branding. You’ve seen it so many times that it’s stamped in your brain.
How to figure out your brand?
Start with your name. Remember my preamble about my pen names? I do everything with a purpose. If you decide to keep your real name then that’s great!
Now, think of the core center of your story.
Do you write about cowboys from outer space who fall in love with female lycans on Earth while saving the Universe? Maybe you love to pen fan fiction about a modern-day Pirate King who has a secret baby with Taylor Swift? (Seriously, someone needs to write these!)
MJQ writes about strong women and the Alpha males with Beta tendencies with whom they fall in love. QUINN loves to write about smexy scenes in the office, in the kitchen, at a club, and just about everywhere, but all her heroines are snarky, confident women, and all her heroes are hot… because why not?
If you can summarize in one sentence what kind of story/stories you write, that may be the core center of your story. What is your goal/objective? How do you want your readers to feel? What do you want them to take away from your stories?
Here’s where it can get tricky. What if you write everything under the sun and nonfiction to boot? You still have a MAIN IDEA. My heroines vary in physical attributes. They can be curvy, short, tall, thin, Asian, Black, mixed race, blue-eyed, red-haired, CEO, wedding planner, or tattoo artist, etc., but both QUINN and MJQ write about strong, confident women. They all get their HEA (Happily Ever Afters). You get the idea.
If you only have one series, it should be a little easier, but don’t forget that we are creatures of creativity. We like to produce a lot of stuff. You can use the series core idea to come up with your brand for now. However, once you start producing more, think globally.
Know your audience! Who do you want reading your books? Is there a specific demographic you’re aiming for? Is your craft a niche market? There’s a huge difference between genres, sub-genres, age categories, ratings. Know who you’re after. If you don’t know, do a search on Amazon on similar types of stories to yours. Scroll down and check out the categories. Or you can go directly to your favourite author’s website and read about how they describe the stories they love to write.
What should be part of your Author Brand other than your name?
Colours. Fonts. Tag lines. Images. Theme.
MJQ tends to have pastel colours or bright hues involved in covers (unless it’s chosen by the publisher), websites, newsletters, and marketing. QUINN gravitates toward black and white with vibrant colours that pop like hot pink or royal blue.
With fonts, I love anything script, curly, curvy for both, because I’m a Romance Writer. And for images, I love to use cute couples, passionate couples, and shots of hot, half-naked men. Who doesn’t?
My tag lines are as follows:
MJQ: Laugh. Cry. Fall in love.
QUINN: Sexy, Sassy, Sinful. (I’m still thinking about this.)
Once you’re published or gearing up for it, think about getting a professional head shot done. Also when you’ve figured all of that out, you can create or invest in an author logo.
Where are you going to use your Author Brand?
Short answer: everywhere. On social media, website, business card, covers, banners, swags, book teasers and trailers, really any promotional materials.
Start thinking about your brand. Don’t get too obsessive that you’ll forget to write. Have an idea in your head and play around with it until you’re ready. It may not come quickly. It may take several tries, but be sure that it will represent you as an author.
Pro Tip: If you choose to go with a pen name, start practicing signing it.
Don’t forget – your brand is you. You are your brand.
For an in-depth know-how on Author Branding, check this out.
Michelle’s love for writing blossomed when her father gave her a diary, but instead of recounting her daily life, she wrote stories of fictional people. Like most of her characters, she believes in Happily Ever After. Naturally, she finds harmony in writing romance. She enjoys creating stories that make readers laugh, cry and fall in love.
An unabashed, self-proclaimed foodie, Michelle loves to try new food when given the chance. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy obsession with dark chocolate and coffee, and would rather spend money on paperbacks than shoes. When not writing, she reads swoon-worthy or spine-tingling books, or watches foreign films.
She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, two kids and a pup named Scarlet.
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